This is the thirty-sixth part of a fiction serial, in 853 words.
As Vera prepared to mark her twenty-first birthday, she wasn’t feeling very happy. There had still been no news about Les, and Christmas had been cold and dull. The pantomime tickets mentioned by Uncle Ernie hadn’t appeared, and she felt as if the war had lasted her whole life. On the worst days, she tried to remember good things that had happened before 1939.
It did seem that it actually might end though. The RAF and American bombers were flattening Germany on a daily basis, and the Russians were well into the east of Germany. Albert perused the newspapers, then made his usual declaration. “The Jerries have had it, I tell you. They can’t possibly win, and it beats me why they are bothering to keep fighting. I ‘spose it’s because they’re fanatics. Must be”. But Japan was still fighting in the Far East, so nobody knew how long it might drag on.
The V-2 rockets still came down now and again, but not as many as before, once most of the launch sites had been captured. And there was no longer any fear of bombers, as it looked as if the Germans had run out of planes to use. Vera loved being back in her bed every night again, as there were no more sirens. No point, as nobody knew when the rockets were coming until they exploded. The blackout was still in force though, so Albert had to carry on doing his rounds every evening. Vera listened to the radio most nights, hoping to hear news that Czechoslovakia had been liberated. But the Germans were still there, so she presumed Les was still a prisoner in the camp near the border.
Everyone was feeling unsettled. So close to the end, and soldiers and sailors and fliers were still dying. Mr Prentice had the bad news that his nephew had been shot down over Germany. He was a rear gunner in a bomber, and listed as missing presumed killed. That was because one of the other planes in the squadron reported the plane exploded in the air, and they saw no parachutes. He told them that his younger sister was inconsolable, as her husband had died of a heart attack in 1940.
Vera had almost forgotten that people still died of natural causes. She had become used to people being killed in the bombing, or killed on military service, but she hadn’t really heard of anyone dying from anything else for so long now.
Janet was really showing big now, even though she had a while to go. When Vera popped round to see her, she was very cheerful. Louis was still driving the general, and having a great time in Paris. He had written to his parents telling them about her, and had also applied to his commanding officer for permission to marry. He was sure it would be granted as soon as the fighting was over. Her parents still didn’t let her out the house though, even though everyone had caught on that she was in the family way by now. Janet told her that her mum had arranged for a woman to come to the house when it was her time. “She’s a retired nurse, and I will be in good hands”. Vera could only think of the last time Mrs Reid had arranged a woman for Janet.
The were still working flat out at the jam factory, sending the big tins of jam out for the army. Elsie used to imagine they must have so much jam by now, each soldier could sit and eat a whole tin to himself. With all the young women who had left to join up, and some who had been killed in the bombing, they had had to recruit some very elderly women to fill the gaps. One of them walked into work using two sticks, then sat down packing boxes with jars filled with jam all day. Elsie was sure she must be in her late seventies, by the look of her.
One night when they got home from work, Viv was already there. She looked very anxious, and wasn’t wearing any make-up. Her hair was still tied in a scarf from where she had been at work. As Vera put the kettle on for tea, Viv wrapped her arms around her mum. “Oh mum, it’s Roy. He’s in hospital over there. He got the officer to write to me to say I shouldn’t worry but he has lost a part of his foot. Oh mum, poor Roy”. Elsie pushed her daughter back, and looked her in the eye. “Don’t take on so now, Viv. He’s alive, that’s the main thing. And with a wound like that, it means the war will be finished for him now, won’t it?”
Albert walked in from work as all the crying was going on, and Vera quickly told him the news. He sat rolling a cigarette, with the newspaper still tucked under his arm. When Viv had calmed down, he lit the cigarette, and slowly turned to speak to to his older daughter.